The word “innovation” has been a word casually and sometimes inaccurately tossed around in education the last five years or so. We know innovative educators exist, and I have had the immeasurable pleasure to be in the presence of innovation--many times. As always, I am simultaneously humbled and amazed by educators who relinquish their grip on that trapeze bar, blindly but faithfully extending their arms towards the unknown--educators who practice innovative teaching methods, administrators who support such innovation, coaches who drive that innovation, and presenters who ideate more of the same. However, and upon much reflection, I’ve come to realize that it’s not the innovation that necessarily counts--It’s the inspiration that does. Inspiration leads to revolution; and those who inspire motivate change.
Brene Brown, an author and researcher with whom I’m sure you’re familiar, believes that “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.” Innovation only goes so far; it’s the inspiration which sparks and maintains that innovation within us. Simply put, I am inspired by all of you who continue to change, evolve, learn, fail, do, succeed, and then re-evolve. You might be scared, and sometimes even paralyzed, by the ever-present mandates to change, and yet you still do. You step out of your comfort zone; you allow yourselves to be vulnerable, and in that vulnerability, innovative practices are born. I am inspired by your courage and creativity.
Thank you for that.
Thank you for having the courage to continue to innovate. But mostly, thank you for your continued inspiration. You can’t begin to imagine how far that stuff spreads. (For emphasis, I really, really wanted to use another word for "stuff," but I'm trying to keep it G-rated, here.)
I wish you all happy and productive learning. I can't wait to be further inspired.
image courtesy of MyModernMet.com
Back in the day, before the dawn of the Internet, we looked to our teachers for the answers. We learned via a repeating cycle of lecturing, note-taking, and testing.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
With the Internet, however, everyone has the potential to become a content expert--to access the knowledge that was previously "kept" by our teachers.
With that said, it's time to shift our instructional delivery from "I give, you get" to "I ask, you explore, discover, try, fail, try again, and succeed. Inquiry-Based Learning helps us educators reach learners in the Digital Age.
Next time you feel like telling, try asking instead.
Want to learn more about Inquiry-Based Learning? Start here.
The following is a true story.
As I drove him from school yesterday, my 16 year-old sheepishly announced, "I got a 40% on my test in _______." [Course name deleted to protect the innocent.]
After I corrected my almost-swerve into oncoming traffic, I regained my composure and inquired in a calm voice that masked my inner panic, "How did that happen?"
He responded, "Don't be mad. I got the highest grade in the class!"
I corrected yet another swerve.
He volunteered, "The class average right now is a D."
I gritted my teeth: "There's nothing average about an entire class of students underachieving."
He attempted to assuage me: "Mom, it's okay. No one ever gets an A. Or a B."
I explained, "Maybe it's just me, kiddo, but I don't think that's okay. How is is okay for an entire class of students to be failing? How does the teacher know you're all learning? Because the test would indicate that very few of you can show what you know."
He sighed, "Mom, please don't start with the teacher talk."
So I stopped. And not only because my sons get bored with all my educational reform proselytizing. It's because I think it's totally uncool for me to call out my kids' teachers in front of them. I don't like being all Judge Judy on other educators.
While my son put in his earbuds and tuned me out, I couldn't tune out my brain.
I'm not calling out my son's teacher here; he's not the only one.
I was that teacher. I was renowned for being the toughest grader in the high school English department, and I wore it like a badge of honor. An A was earned in my class--not granted. I believed I was preparing my students for the rigor of college by putting these obstacles in their way.
Doesn't that almost sound like I was setting them up to fail? Wasn't I establishing almost insurmountable odds? How was I doing my job? What were they learning?
We have to meet our learners where they are.
What would happen if a doctor prescribed all of his patients the exact same drug for completely different illnesses? Maybe a minority of the patients will improve--but the majority of them will never, ever recover. Their sickness will continue. And the doctor would be guilty of medical malpractice.
We have to meet our learners where they are. We really have to. And that means making sure we're doing our very, very best to reach the needs of each learner. We can do this when we give daily ungraded formatives (exit tickets in Google Forms, reflections in Flipgrid, or 3-2-1 checks in Edpuzzle). We can do this when we differentiate assignments in Google Classroom based on student needs. We can do this when we offer choice menus. Like good doctors, we should diagnose what each of our patients need--instead of writing them all the same prescription.
Teaching does not equal learning. Let's not be guilty of educational malpractice.
About two years ago, I stopped making resolutions in the new year. Instead, I now make intentions.
The word "resolution" is problematic to me; it literally means "the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter." I've decided that if I think in these terms--that my current behaviors are a problem that need to be solved--then I've already established a negative vision/version of myself.
I prefer the word "intention." It's a kinder word, a word that indicates a plan, a goal, an aim to do better.
This year, I have many intentions: personal, spiritual, physical. I hope to turn my weaknesses into strengths.
Professionally, I intend to focus more on the needs of my audiences and less on how I appear in front of them.
I have a tendency to make it about me. That's a weakness. My intention is to build relationships grounded in compassion, empathy, and a genuine desire to help people embrace the desire to learn new things.
Wish me luck. I wish you that and more as you transform your weaknesses over the next twelve months.
And happy new year!
Teacher, author, and innovator Holly Clark recently examined in her blog why some educators tend towards innovation more than others do.
I've been at this for four years now, and one of the things that I've found myself consistently pondering is why it's been such a struggle to find enthusiasm for the adoption of educational technology in the classroom.
Of course, it all comes down to fear (or neophobia, as Seth Godin terms it.) And in four years, here's what I've come to understand about neophobia:
We fear the unknown.
Technology is the realm of the “digital since diapers” crowd, and since we feel like we are strangers in a strange land, we tend to feel excluded. And thus, there are educators out there who reject or avoid technology all together, expelling it from their classrooms, and continuing to teach as if the technology doesn’t exist. But here's the thing, though: everything evolves. What makes education so special that it’s immune to evolution? And more importantly, why would a profession that prides itself on shaping the future be so reticent to change? We have to turn it around. We have to embrace change instead of fighting it. We owe the medical, transportation, communications, and technology industries major props for being willing to evolve. And education is the one profession that gives birth to all of those industries. It's time to change. If we fight it any longer, we'll become irrelevant.
The inclusion (or intrusion, depending on how you look at it) of technology makes some of us feel as if we are losing control of our classrooms and students.
This makes sense when we consider how learning occurred in the pre-Internet days when the teacher held the keys to learning. However, we need to embrace a new model--that of facilitator, guide, coach--and we need to work collaboratively with our students. We can learn from them, they can learn from each other, they can learn on their own. There's no longer any need for us to be the gatekeepers to knowledge acquisition.
Technology makes some of us feel as if what we have to contribute is no longer relevant.
Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact. The human element has been, is, and always will be a necessary part of learning.
We feel attacked for not knowing.
We are expected to embrace the technology, and yet, very little in terms of support and structure is provided us. And so, change is painstakingly slow. “Sit and get” professional development is not conducive to long-lasting, organizational change. We need to change the model of digital learning to take into account our “digital immigrants.”
It prevents us from moving forward. Fear can paralyze us, and if we don't confront it--if we aren't willing to enter into a relationship and get to know it--then it will crush us. Ironically, the only way to banish the neophobe from our psyche is to be unafraid to confront it.
We should always remember that our goal as educators is to create lifelong learners. Let’s model what that looks like by being willing to confront our fears, to sometimes fail, but to ultimately succeed.
And isn’t that a totally awesome-sauce life lesson for our students?
Photo credit: Quotes Mixer
When Dr. Ruben Puentadura devised the SAMR model as a pathway for teachers to integrate technology into instruction, he justified its existence in the following way: “I see students taking charge of their own education. Those are classrooms where the students say…’I can see a better way of doing that!’ There is a certain excitement [and] a certain ownership of learning.” In other words, he envisioned a world (and classrooms) where the teachers and the technology would work together to create student-centric environments.
I appreciate the simplicity and step-by-step approach of the SAMR model. More importantly, I appreciate the #awesomesauce potential it promises. Truly defining 1:1 in the classroom comes down to this:
These are the goals not only of the SAMR model, but of the redefinition of learning. Today’s classrooms should be teacher-bordered and not teacher-focused. Our learning environments should encourage students to individually find a better way to think, to solve, to learn, and to re-learn.
The 1:1 classroom offers that potential, for sure. But in my travels, I all too frequently see many districts or buildings or classrooms not quite hitting the mark. (I’m not getting all Judge Judy here, I promise!) I think that we all too often get stuck at the substitution level of the SAMR model when it comes to 1:1.
And then we get comfortable staying there.
And the next thing you know, we’re wearing sweats, we’ve abandoned makeup, the hair’s up in a messy ponytail, and we’re hanging out the couch, with pizza and Netflix now a substitute for our date night. In other words, we’ve stopped making an effort.
image courtesy of The Odyssey Online
We weren’t meant to get stuck. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet, after all.
Being 1:1 isn’t just about the technology--because the technology isn’t going to magically make students empowered and engaged. Just because every kid has a device doesn’t mean that kid is using the technology to his or her advantage. We need to keep this top-of-mind when we introduce technology into our classrooms, schools, districts: “A one to one classroom occurs at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.”
When I assist teacher teams with integrating technology into their classrooms, I lay out for them the things that need to really change--and that’s first and foremost the pedagogy. We can’t continue teaching to 21st century kids as if they’re 20th century ones. With that said, when teachers and administrators ask me how they can get started going 1:1, I always ask the following questions:
Are You Willing to Change the Design of Your Classroom?
A 1:1 classroom requires flexibility for both individual and collaborative work. Are you willing to ditch the desks? Are you accepting of the idea of a space that is stripped down, inviting, and designed for collaboration? Are you willing to give up your teacher desk (or as I call it, “Fort Desk”) in favor of a have-laptop-will-travel mentality to work with students? Are you ready to make your future-ready classroom brain-friendly? Simply put, does your classroom look like your local Starbucks or the Google offices? (Okay, okay...you probably can’t make it look exactly like the Googleplex, but consider the open spaces, collaborative idea sharing areas, and inviting atmosphere.)
Are You Willing to Give Up Control--and to Be Okay with Occasional Chaos?
Are you okay with not feeding students content via lecture notes, graphic organizers, and prepackaged worksheets from Teachers Pay Teachers? Are you okay with asking them questions and then letting them explore like free-range chickens? Are you okay with not having an airtight, rigid lesson plan? Are you okay with abandoning a lesson when an opportunity for exploration presents itself? Are you okay with letting students get it wrong occasionally--make mistakes, fail, and self-correct? Are you okay with not stepping in and taking over--being the guide and not the facilitator? Are you okay with students being out of their seats? Are you okay with non-silent, working students?
Are You Willing to Let Students Create?
Are you familiar with the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy--where creation is now the highest level of learning? Are you happy to let students show what they know instead of having them take and end-of-unit summative? Are you ready to let your students be content creators instead of content consumers? Knowing that whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, would you be willing to let students teach something to increase their retention of material? Would you even be willing to let them write a textbook or create learning materials for their peers instead of simply recalling? Would you consider allowing students to publish to a global audience via YouTube, blogging, or the creation of a website?
Are You Willing to Give Up the One-Size-Fits All Mentality?
Can you create an assignment or activity that accommodates different types of learners? Will your learners have choice and voice in how they present their learning? (As Chris Lehmann points out, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project. That’s a recipe.”) Would you consider different instructional delivery methods that might be self-paced? (Think HyperDocs or gamification here.)
And the biggie...
Are You Willing to Become a Flipper?
Can you get comfortable with the idea of assigning homework for classwork and classwork for homework? Can you give up lecturing and instead devise active learning experiences, problem-based learning, or peer instruction? Can you challenge yourself to deliver content outside of class that is engaging? Are you willing to let students use their mobile devices in the classroom to learn and create?
If the answer to the majority of the questions is yes, then we are good to go, to explore, to learn, to transform, If the answer is no, well, that’s neither bad or good--it’s just the way it is and some guided hand-holding and confidence-boosting needs to occur.
These are all uncomfortable questions, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable for me to ask them--and for educators to even consider them. But change doesn’t happen in our comfort zones.
Speaking of getting uncomfortable, let’s revisit that date night analogy again: Remember when things were new? You know, when we actually put forth some effort? When we shaved our legs, applied the eye shadow, curled the hair, and donned the heels? (Guys, not sure what your equivalent of date-night effort is. Don't throw shade at me.) Let's get back to putting forth the effort. It makes everyone happy.
We have to encourage ourselves and our colleagues to make the effort again, too. To not get comfortable. To ask of our current pedagogical practices, What can I do to keep this fresh?
We need to keep making the effort and we can’t stay comfortable.
Because our 21st-century students, after all, deserve our effort.
image courtesy of Pixabay
I've been lately embedded with a 4th grade math class, observing and looking for opportunities to integrate technology into daily instruction as this school makes plans to be 1:1 next year.
Today, a true teachable moment presented itself. As students collaborated in the number corner, discussing the concept of time, one kiddo piped up, "What does a.m. & p.m. mean?"
Pausing, the teacher asked, "What do you think it means? Does anyone have a guess?"
"Does it mean 'after midnight' and 'pre-midnight?" another student offered. (Not a bad guess, right?)
At that point the teacher encouraged the kids to look it up when they got home and to share the answer with the class the following day for a bonus buck. There was content to cover, after all, and only so much time to cover it.
I kept my mouth shut. It wasn't my place to jump in and say, "Let's figure it out now!" I was a guest, after all. Still, I knew we were missing a valuable opportunity to model learning in the moment--instead of putting it off until later. I'd bet a paycheck that none of those kids were going to go home and search for the answer. The moment was gone.
Or was it?
I know what a.m. and p.m. mean, and so does my high school senior--who's in his fourth year of Latin. (By choice. I swear.) I didn't want to lose the moment, so I immediately texted my son:
This isn't the first time I've dragged my kids into teaching others. When he was in sixth grade, I coerced Tyler to create an instructional ShowMe to demonstrate to teachers how the app works. My younger son, Robbie, and some of his buddies were "gently guided" into making a collaborative learning website in 7th grade so that I could share with teachers that students could create their own learning materials. And just last month, Tyler co-presented with me at a local edtech conference--and not only wound up leading the session, but stealing the show, too.
I don't bring kids into teaching because I can't teach. I bring them into teaching to prove a point: in the digital age, learners are teachers and teachers are learners. Knowledge acquisition is fluid.
So, knowing that a question left unanswered and unexplored is a lost learning opportunity, and hindered by the fact that Tyler's AP Physics class was more important than my need for him to Facetime the 4th graders, that afternoon we devised an alternative solution and created a short video to share with the kiddos the next day.
And here it is:
Not necessarily professional, and not necessarily polished...but definitely real. And, as it turns out, our audience of fourth-graders enjoyed the heck out of it...and I'll bet a paycheck they'll remember the meanings behind ante meridian and post meridian for a long time to come.
This generation of learners craves digital interaction: they're Facetiming, Snapchatting, Instagramming, Tweeting, and devouring YouTube videos. Why? Not because they're passive recipients, but because they seek to connect in exciting, engaging, and authentic ways.
Let's try to recognize and take advantage of more opportunities for learning to happen in real-time--outside of both our carefully-arranged lesson plans and the four walls of our classrooms.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a group of middle school and high school teachers as they address what 1:1 will look like for their district. The driving question of this particular roundtable/workshop was “Why Do We Have to Change the Way We Do Things?” It’s often how I like to start when trying to change hearts and minds--by getting to the reasons that initiate the change in the first place. For me, that starts with trying to understand Generation Z.
I posted the following question to those assembled: “In one word, how would you describe #GenZ?” Here are some of those responses:
As these results appeared on the screen in front of us, lots of laughs and a few smirks followed. I asked my audience why these answers may (or may not) have amused them:
They’re always staring at screens. I used to go out all day and play until it was dark.
They’re always taking selfies and posting them; they’re so self-obsessed.
They think they’re so tech-savvy, but they really don’t know how to use technology.
Totally soft. They wouldn’t be able to change a tire if they got stuck on the side of the road.
Pretty negative, right? I had hoped that the person who labeled GenZ as “teachable” would have spoken up, but (s)he didn't, so I’ll take on that task.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of GenZ. Like an oversized-foam-finger-fan of them.
I love their boldness, their creativity, their intuitive ability to interface with devices placed in front of them, their willingness to connect and interact, their total lack of reluctant self-consciousness. This is a generation who creates their own YouTube channels, who uploads their original music to SoundCloud, who publishes their own ebooks to Amazon Kindle.
They are fearless in their belief that the world is accessible to them. And I admire it.
I think that’s why we as educators are so reluctant (or so resistant) to embrace Generation Z’s “different-ness.” I think we’re the ones with the fear; maybe we’re a teeny bit afraid of them. Perhaps they represent to us what was once a distant future but what is now clearly a very present, well...present. Generation Z doesn't necessarily need us to teach them anymore--at least not in the traditional way. They can find answers without us. They can learn things without us. They can create things without us.
Do we fear our irrelevance? Or do we fear our loss of total control?
If we fear the former, don’t panic. We just need to modify our role. If we fear the latter, well, Buttercup, we’re gonna have to get over that in a major way.
If we’re ready to modify our role, then let’s create teacher-bordered classrooms where the kiddos are allowed to discover learning instead of having it handed to them. If we’re gonna get over it, we’re going to have to get uncomfortable with not completely understanding technology and learning it together with our students.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Generation Z is historically unlike other. In a word, that’s amazeballs. But are they really so different? My generation (Generation X) triggered our parents with MTV and Walkmans. (Wasn’t that in itself a form of self-involvement and distraction?)
My advice? Embrace the revolution. Let the selfie generation see themselves in their learning.
Have you seen the new Google Pixel 2 commercial? Before you read any further, take a look:
What’s your first impression? Mine is That’s brilliant. But it’s not just the commercial that’s brilliant (although the advertising executive who dreamt it up sure deserves a bonus)--it’s the message:
A question mark changes everything.
As the Google design team makes abundantly clear in this ad, statements are limiting, and placing a period at the end of a sentence indicates finality. No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
But what if?
As we Google fans know (and as the company itself affirms), Google is a company “built on questions.” And as more schools go Google (70+ million G Suite for Education global users), we need to change our mark of punctuation:
We are learning.
We are learning?
Think about our CCSS “I Can” statements--the ones prominently displayed in every classroom to indicate content learned by students. Here’s one for high school biology:
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms. (LS1-4)
How do we know they can?
Well, traditionally, a teacher will prepare slides about mitosis, give lecture notes about mitosis, copy study guides and worksheets about mitosis, assign homework and reading about mitosis, and then finally administer a unit test about mitosis.
No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
(By the way, notice the verbs I used above to describe the traditional learning process: prepare, give, copy, assign, administer. While these aren’t passive verbs--and this former high school English teacher should know!--they certainly designate passivity when it comes to learning. And notice that all the “work” is being done by the teacher. The students will watch the slides, copy the notes, complete the study guides and worksheets, do the homework and reading, and take the test. Check out the verbs I used in that last sentence. See a pattern? Those verbs make a point, and the point is this: If whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, then we’re doing it wrong.)
A question mark changes everything.
What if we changed that period at the end of a traditional "I Can" statement into a question mark?
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms?
Imagine projecting that question to a class and simply saying, Can you? Imagine allowing them to pursue their own learning, to show, to demonstrate, to create. What if we said, “Figure out a way to show how you can master that standard, whether it’s a screencast, a song, an infographic, a story, an animated Google Slides deck, a carefully-curated assemblage, a playlist...a whatever you can imagine! I’ll be here to guide you, to coach you, to encourage you, to direct you, but I will not do the work for you.” Imagine stepping to the side and allowing them to be active participants and owners of their learning.
I can learn.
I can learn?
Statements finalize possibilities. Questions open them up.
Still not convinced? Think about this for a minute: Google didn’t create the latest in innovative smart phone technology by making statements. Google did it by asking questions.
So why aren’t we?
A question mark changes everything.
Note: To learn more about asking questions to inspire learning, check out inquiry-based learning.
I’m giving you fair warning, buttercup: this is not going to be a warm and fuzzy post. So if you’re a sensitive soul, now’s the time to turn back.
I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for six months now, hesitating to go public for fear of offending anyone. The content that follows--to borrow from the latest in adolescent vernacular--may ”trigger” you. Or it may inspire you. Maybe it will provoke you to stop following me. Or maybe (hopefully!) it will encourage you to think. Here goes...
Last week, I was working with a teacher during her planning period, brainstorming ways to integrate a specific instructional technology tool into her curriculum. As we collaborated, her veteran partner walked in, took one look at us, and responded, “Oh, no. No more technology for me! Absolutely not.” She promptly turned on her heel and exited.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon reaction to my presence in a classroom or a school. While I’m often welcomed with open arms, I’m equally as often treated like Frankenstein’s monster in the village.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. In my best Stuart Smalley voice, I’ve self-talked and mentally declared my worthiness to myself when I sense a reluctant adopter’s discomfort with my presence and with what I represent to her--which is change.
However, like Frankenstein’s monster, I believe I am (or at least my role is) frequently misunderstood. So please allow me this opportunity to clarify: Teachers, I was not put on this earth (or in this job) to torture you, but to instead make learning more engaging and productive for your students.
And promise you: This is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. It’s really, really about the kiddos. My misson is to act as a translator and tour guide into the digital domain--a world in which our students already exist. And a world in which they’d be really, really thrilled to have us join.
So when you get angry at me, or snub me, or tell me things like the following, I tend to take it, well, personally:
I take it personally on behalf of our students. I'm not working against you. I hope to work with you. We’re on the same team. Just like you, I strive to challenge students, to push them, and to inspire them.
Imagine how you might react if students said the following to you:
Listen, I get it. Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Everything evolves. It’s that simple: every industry, every profession, every thing changes.
When an educator summarily rejects the notion that technology is a necessary part of educating our students, when an educator absolutely refuses to improve his or her own understanding of it, and when educators treat as the enemy the people whose job it is to assist them in making the shift, I have to say--and it pains me to do so--then you’re making it about you.
Again, I’m so very sorry if this post makes anyone uncomfortable. But maybe discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, because it’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that true change occurs. As author and speaker Brene Brown so sagely advises us, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Of course it’s comfortable to stick with what we know and to do things the way we’ve always done them; however, it’s also incredibly courageous to venture into the unknown.
Yet, in spite of it all, I’m very grateful I get to do the work I do. Because even on my bad days, even when the villagers have chased me into the depths of the forest, I have to remind myself:
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Dewey quote from Twitter
Digital Learning Coach in Cleveland, Ohio, sharing innovative technology ideas.